Have You Played… Sid Meier’s Civilization V?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Sid Meier is famous for his line that games are “a series of interesting decisions.” Which makes it interesting that Sid Meier’s Civilization V is a game about telling people to stand still over and over again.

To be clear, I like Civilization. My interest in the series peaked with IV, but Civilization V still occupied plenty of hours of my time. There is something very soothing about its take on global expansion, in which each step of progress, whether it be through time or across the map, feels inevitable.

But there are times when it seems designed to soothe me into the coma. One of the reasons for that is a little bit of clever UI design: the big ‘next decision’ that sits in the bottom right of the screen, taking you to whatever else needs doing before you can end your turn. It’s clever because it filters all the game’s systems into a single interface element and lets the player know at every opportunity what they need to be paying attention to.

But it also has the effect, I think, of making even the game’s most interesting decisions feel rote. Another item on a shopping list of conquest: scout there, build here, remain there, declare war here, and so on. It lays bare the systems of the game as just that – systems – without the grandeur or sense of storytelling that should make a game like Civ great.

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  1. HopeHubris says:

    But it also has no Doomstacks (which are awful), so swings and roundabouts

    • Luke Nukem says:

      Instead you get to act as traffic police, trying to avoid a fatal traffic jam

      • HopeHubris says:

        Still better, though I am glad 6 will let you move multiple units at a time

    • jonfitt says:

      Yes! The wars felt like they were waged across the terrain. You could wrap around enemy forces, and surround a city.
      Also a choke point in the map was a great defensive position as they would have to attack one at a time.

      I think I would like a middle ground though. Perhaps one unit per tile but you can get Civ 3 style armies.

      • Grimmtooth says:

        I thought making the terrain a part of the combat puzzle was fairly accurate, truthfully. Some examples: (1) exposing ground units in open terrain is a death wish IRL or in game. (2) Climbing hills is hard, yo. (3) but you get a good view of the city you’re gonna bombard (4) but they get a great view of you, too. (5) Driving a tank platoon through an infantry camp will ruin everybody’s day no matter what world you’re from (7) That wall’s 1000 yards long, how are you cramming 20,000 infantry up against it?

        I will admit to frustration from this, but playing Civ is about the challenge. You wanna advance with zero effort, play WoW. (pass the salt)

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      Syt says:

      I still think Call to Power had the right idea about stacks: it had three unit types: ranged, flanking, and attack. In combat, two stacks would see both armies clashing (in an abstracted way, kind of like in Paradox games, but with less detail).

      And I loved the “public works” budget for tile improvements (a %-age of your production that you could vary) that removed the need of moving workers around the map.

    • RanDomino says:

      I’ve thought about changing the retreat chance for every unit in Fall From Heaven 2 to 90% (plus some other necessary tweaks). The effect would be that in order to actually destroy units, you have to surround them, which means spreading out your army.

      Another possible solution would be to have every tile have a soft cap on the number of units, simulating forage.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Doomstacks were already discouraged by artillery and collateral damage (especially from nerve gas) in Alpha Centauri. I acknowledge that unit-per-tile rules also solve stacking but I never felt it was as elegant or special as the artillery/collateral rules.

      I once wiped out a 20-high AI doomstack with two nerve gas units.

      Hang on, I feel a big rant on Alpha Centauri being a definitive height of 4X coming on…

  2. Solidstate89 says:

    I have, but I had to take a looooong step away from it after ALL of my saves for a ~100 hour game on the World Map that I was playing became corrupted. Including the ones backed up to the Steam Cloud. You wouldn’t believe how dejected I was.

  3. Colby Anger says:

    I never started playing Civ games until Civ V, but it’s by no means my first stab at strategy games. It was actually the numerous articles here and at other gaming sites that finally convinced me to start playing it, as well as the Brave New World expansion finally adding enough systems to make the “story” of a civilization growing through the ages feel more “real” and organic.

    However, it was my discovery of the Community Balance Patch (or “Vox Populi”) that really got me into the game as it cleared up a ton of balance issues that had always bothered me and made all of the different civilizations more interesting to play. With Vox Populi and a few other mods in place I really couldn’t imagine going back to older Civ games now, especially with all of the QoL additions that exist in the current state of the game. For instance, I love that the game reminds you of all pending decisions before you can end the turn, as I’d otherwise be paranoid that I forgot to do something (and even still, I often forget to assign Specialists in my cities until many turns after their buildings are completed!). I also prefer the “1 military unit per hex” system rather than unit stacking as it makes military planning and logistics feel like a more important part of winning a war. And you can still technically “move through” your own units as long as you don’t stop in the same hex, so I’ve rarely been frustrated by not being able to stack units up. Additionally, not being able to stack units means that armies with the most numbers don’t automatically win wars. If you’re the underdog you can utilize choke points and such to fight portions of the enemy at a time, minimizing their numerical superiority to a degree. This makes the terrain even more important as the locations of mountains, lakes, rivers, and such matter for more than just their defensive or movement modifiers.

    So all in all I’d say that Civ V is a pretty darned good strategy game, and that the “telling of a story” aspect is still definitely intact in its current incarnation. And although I’ve got the Vox Populi modset to keep me busy through the summer, I’m still definitely looking forward to what Civ VI may bring!

    • Zamn10210 says:

      I’ve never used Vox Populi. Why do you think it makes such a big difference?

  4. ChairmanYang says:

    I think it’s an incredibly important point, and one of the reasons I’ve fallen out of love with most Civlikes in favour of grand strategy or board game-inspired strategy games.

  5. Hyena Grin says:

    The lack of mod support for multiplayer basically consigned Civ 5 to the dusty shelf for me. What an awful shame and a waste of a good foundation for a game. It was never quite as deep or balanced as it needed to be for an enjoyable multiplayer experience.

    • dontnormally says:

      Could you imagine if Civ had mod support along a similar lines as Starcraft2’s custom map support? There are so, so many amazing things that a solid Civ engine could support.

      They really better figure this out for Civ6.

    • IanN11 says:

      Modders have actually figured out how to play with mods in multiplayer using modpacks made up of a bunch of the mods then put into the civ folders while some arent that well done there are quite a few that work really really well and have tons of must have mods this being one that i use – link to forums.civfanatics.com

  6. jj2112 says:

    I got it but the one I enjoyed was Civ II.

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    gritz says:

    Doomstacks rule, everyone is wrong.

  8. SoundDust says:

    Oh yes. It’s probably my most played game of all. With the possible exception of Jagged Alliance Deadly Games..

    I still haven’t had the chance to try out Civ V in multiplayer. Are RPS people still playing it?

  9. Det. Bullock says:

    I have it in my library since forever but never played it, however my brother (he uses my same steam account) cloked an insane amount of hours with it.

  10. Ron Peppers says:

    That image describes why I haven’t played it more eloquently than I ever could. Just looking at it gives me the fear.

    • notcoffeetable says:

      Honestly though, I feel like that image is the composite of at least 3 screens. Actual gameplay has no where near that much stuff in it.

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    Big Dunc says:

    I’ve played it for around 20 hours or so, but sadly never felt the same love for it (and Civ IV) as I did the first three Civs.

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    I really enjoyed it, about as much as Civ4. Some bits were better, some bits were worse, but otherwise pretty good.

  13. Vintageryan says:

    If I had to stay on a desert island with only one game it would be this (its about time Radio 4 came into the 21st century).

    Most likely spent more time on this game than talking to the wife and the only time I upgrade my PC is when it will not run the latest Civ.

    • Victor A Yorke says:

      I think I agree with you…

      But as much as i love them as the most marvelously British media outlet in human history, Radio 4 needs to finish off the 20th century before it starts thinking about the 21st. =D

  14. vlonk says:

    I have played this game according to steam for a stupendous amount of hours but lately I have changed Developers and got hooked on the Paradox formula.

    Civ VI could change that but I feel I got really spoiled with mod support and complex AI/diplomacy. There is so much room for growth for Firaxis I would hope they tackle those challenges this time around.

  15. Jon Shafer says:


  16. DanMan says:

    Also available on GNU/Linux!

  17. Sly-Lupin says:

    I actually loaded up both Civ4 and Civ5 for the first time in year(s) just the other day.

    I have to say, wow. The difference is pretty startling. Aside from Leonard Nimoy, Civ5 is just an enormous improvement. I remember Civ4 far more fondly than I should–the game has not aged well.

    But Civ5 ain’t exactly a gem, either. I’d totally forgotten how awful the combat is. Yeah, it’s way, way better than the stacking of prior Civs… but it’s still incredibly tedious, time consuming, and dull.

    The whole limited armies thing that Total War Rome 2 did were pretty bad in that game… But maybe they’d work well in a Civil game? Anything to reduce all that micromanagement.

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  21. KaptainKartWheel says:

    Dear RPS, I think you need to whip your website monkeys harder to get them to fix the spamming issue. Tempted as I am to earn $89 an hour over the internet, I came here for the games.

    Oh and Civ 4 was my last dabble, Beyond Space was rather meh, maybe Civ 6 can tempt me back, but only if it has all the parts to make it balanced from the original release…I know I can dream..maybe I will need the $89/hour job to buy all the DLC…